- Priscilla Janssens and Jo Fernandes are General Coordinators
- This is the first time that two women have held this crucial role at a World Cup
- "We’re breaking through a glass ceiling"
Priscilla Janssens and Jo Fernandes are breaking new ground in Russia as the first women in the history of the FIFA World Cup™ to serve in the capacity of General Coordinator: one of the highest positions of responsibility at the event.
“For me, it’s a great honour. We’re breaking through a glass ceiling,” said Priscilla, who has been working in football for 20 years. Having started out as an assistant to foreign players at Ajax, she became a Venue Director for UEFA in 2004 and has been at the forefront of the professionalisation of the women’s game in the Netherlands since 2007.
“I’m very proud to be here,” added Jo, who is in charge of the department overseeing the development of women's and girls' football in New South Wales, under Football Federation Australia. “It’s very important because every woman who wants to work in football needs to see that there are others who are being successful in these sorts of roles.”
Both of them already have experience of performing the role at other FIFA tournaments, but the World Cup represents a new peak.
“Sometimes FIFA is seen as conservative, but this demonstrates that we’re really making progress on that front. It’s an example for every federation and confederation. Lots of women work in football, but the majority of them lower down. It’s time we saw women in management positions, too,” declared Janssens.
A position of maximum responsibility
But what exactly is their role? “We’re ultimately responsible for everything that happens in a host city before, during and after a match,” explained Fernandes.
Priscilla expanded on the answer: “We look after the training centres, the team hotels, the city logistics and the FIFA Fan Fest, as well as everything in the stadium: security, TV, tickets, press, marketing… We coordinate all that information and have a global vision of what’s going on.”
Is there any particular added value that they bring to the job as women? “I don’t think it’s about being a woman or a man,” opined Jo.
“To be a GC, you need to have a lot of patience and the ability to work with colleagues from different parts of the world. The most important quality to have is good attention to detail.”
Priscilla believes that being women may help them “to handle situations with a smile” or “to have that sixth sense that tells you whether someone is feeling well or not. Just by how they move, you realise that they might need your attention.”
Legacy and inspiration
Priscilla and Jo are good friends away from work. In addition to the chat group that they share with all the other GCs, they send messages to find out how the other is getting on and “to give mutual support”, according to Jo.
And both of them are excited about their status as role models. “If one woman sees another doing this, it inspires them to think that they can achieve it too,” enthused Priscilla. “It changes your perspective.”
“Not all of them are going to get there, but it changes a girl’s life just to know that they can. And it’s up to us to do a good job, because then they’ll see that FIFA trusts us and the rest will say ‘us too’.”